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Christopher Brauchli

Christopher Brauchli

Posted: March 18, 2010 11:20 AM

Reading and Writing and 'Rithmetic

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"The stumbling way in which even the ablest of the scientists in every generation have had to fight through thickets of erroneous observations, misleading generalizations, inadequate formulations, and unconscious prejudice is rarely appreciated by those who obtain their scientific knowledge from textbooks."
-- James Bryant Conant, Science and Common Sense


He lost the election but probably not the war. Thanks to his enlightened efforts and the efforts of his like-minded colleagues (if the use of the word "mind" in the same sentence as a description of him and his colleagues does not offend) text books around the country will never be the same. I'm referring to Dr. Don McLeroy. In the March 2nd primary in Texas he was defeated in his bid for a second term on the Texas Board of Education of which he'd been a member since 1998 and its chair since 2007.

Students throughout the country will enjoy the benefits of his efforts and those of his colleagues since as Texas goes in the schoolbook world, so goes much of the nation, Texas being one of the largest purchasers of text books in the country.

The every 10-year process of setting standards for Texas textbooks is drawing to a close. One of the areas addressed in 2009 was science and two of the most contentious issues were evolution and global warming. At its meeting on March 25-27, 2009, the board added the requirement to the study of evolution that students must examine "all sides of scientific evidence" which includes the side that says the age of the earth is 6000 years, give or take a couple hundred. This enlightened approach delighted those who have long been troubled by the whole idea of evolution and who are, themselves, living proof that evolution does not occur in all humans. The Discovery Institute that promotes the idea of intelligent design said the board had chosen science over dogma. It called the revised standards a "huge victory for those who favor teaching the scientific evidence for and against evolution. In an interview with Mariah Blake of the Washington Monthly, Dr. McLeroy said: "Whooey. We won the Grand Slam, and the Super Bowl ... Our science standards are light years ahead of any other state when it comes to challenging evolution!" The National Center for Science Education, on the other hand, commented that the board "voted to adopt a flawed set of state science standards, which will dictate what is taught in science classes in elementary and secondary schools, as well as provide the material for state tests and textbooks, for the next decade."

Darwin was not the only one to take a hit. Global warming was another. The Board added the requirement to the chapter dealing with Environmental Systems that students should "analyze and evaluate different views on the existence of global warming." Dr. McLeroy said: "Conservatives like me think the evidence [on global warming] is a bunch of hooey."

Almost one year to the day since evolution and global warming were dispatched, social studies found itself under the microscope. Once again, the charge was led by Don, ably assisted by Cynthia Dunbar. In the piece by Ms. Blake she refers to Cynthia's self-published book in which Cynthia says public education is "tyrannical" and "a tool of perversion" and sending kids to public school is like "throwing them into the enemy's flames." Nonetheless, she serves on the board and is involved in rewriting the textbooks.

The changes to the social studies section come as no surprise to those who read Ms. Blake's interview with Don. In the interview he said to her "we are a Christian nation founded on Christian principles. The way I evaluate history textbooks is first I see how they cover Christianity and Israel. Then I see how they treat Ronald Reagan - he needs to get credit for saving the world from communism and for the good economy over the last twenty years because he lowered taxes." The new standards require that when dealing with the civil rights movement the Black Panthers be studied as well as Martin Luther King. Language was added saying that Republicans supported Civil Rights legislation. That language was added by David Barton, former vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party and one of the drafters. He is quoted in Ms. Blake's piece as saying that at one time African Americans owe their civil rights almost entirely to Republicans and were treated atrociously by Democrats.

As was noted at the outset, Dr. McLeroy lost the election but not the war. The new standards will be voted on in May and the new textbooks will appear in 2011. In talking with Ms. Blake about the Texas Board of Education he said: "Sometimes it boggles my mind the kind of power we have." If being able to intellectually impoverish a generation of students is what he's referring to, he's certainly got that right.

Christopher Brauchli can be e-mailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu. For political commentary see his web page at http://humanraceandothersports.com